Early symptoms of MS can vary widely, but will typically trace back to neurological impairment

Early symptoms of MS can include numbness and difficulty with vision — the symptoms of MS vary as much as the disease does

Early symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) can start to appear in adolescence, but the disease tends to develop in adults between the ages of 20 and 40. MS tends to progress and can do so at varying speeds for every patient.

MS is an autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack the central nervous system, damaging or destroying the myelin tissue around the nerve fibers. Depending on where MS strikes, the symptoms can vary widely.

No one knows what triggers MS, although it is likely the product of several factors including genetics and exposure to certain viruses and the environment. There is no known cure for MS. Treatment focuses on easing symptoms during a relapse, addressing the disease itself and rehabilitation therapy to better manage symptoms.

MS is a complex disease. While MS sometimes can be seen in the form of lesions on the myelin that surrounds nerves, the diagnostic process can be lengthy and may require eliminating other possible conditions.

Norton Community Medical Associates primary care

If you are concerned about any signs or symptoms, your first stop is your primary care provider. As your medical home, your primary care provider knows you and your history. Norton Community Medical Associates providers are located across the Louisville and Southern Indiana area.

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Early symptoms of MS

Norton Neuroscience Institute patients tend to show the following early symptoms of MS:

  • Dizziness or the feeling of being off balance
  • Intermittent numbness or weakness in the feet, one whole side of the body, or legs
  • Optic neuritis, inability to gauge distance, and double vision
  • Changes in sensitivity to heat or cold
  • Slurred speech or stroke-like symptoms such as slackness or paralysis on one side of the face or body

Approximately 1 miliion people are living with Multiple Sclerosis in the US,  and MS is as much as three times more common in women than men.

Diagnosing MS

When a patient develops early symptoms of MS, diagnosis isn’t as simple as a blood test. The complexity of the disease requires MS clinic experience and training to pinpoint the condition.

“Since this disease is so variable, we have to look at the whole person. The big picture, including past neurological symptoms,” said Jocelyn H. McGuire, APRN, a nurse practitioner and neurology specialist at Norton Neuroscience Institute. “Is it just numbness? Is it numbness and double vision? Are these symptoms consistent? What other medical conditions exist? We also do many tests, both to confirm an MS diagnosis and to rule out anything else.”

Tools in diagnosing MS based on early symptoms or a more progressed case of the disease include:

  • Physical neurological exam
  • MRI
  • Spinal fluid evaluation
  • Blood tests
  • Family health history

“It can be a frustrating process,” Jocelyn said. “There are so many different tests, and sometimes the symptoms come and go so unpredictably; it might take several months and several specialists before we pinpoint the real illness.”

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